In January 2017, Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez met with Academy product Cam Lindley about the prospect of leaving college after just one year. The University of North Carolina midfielder was coming off a standout freshman season – 21 starts, seven assists and ACC Freshman of the Year honors, among other awards – but said he wanted to stay with the Tar Heels for another year.
When they met for that conversation again this offseason, after an even better sophomore year for Lindley, the young midfielder informed Rodriguez that he was ready to begin his professional career, but didn’t want to do so in Chicago.
On Thursday morning, the Fire announced that they had traded Lindley’s Homegrown rights to Orlando City SC in exchange for 23-year-old outside back Rafael Ramos as well as $100,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (split evenly between 2018 and 2019). Orlando City subsequently signed Lindley to a four-year contract with club options.
“We are excited to add Cam to our squad,” Lions general manager Niki Budalic said in the club’s announcement. “He is a technical midfielder that has stood out in his two seasons at UNC. His passion, ability and tactical awareness will allow him to fit in very well in our squad. We look forward to Cam joining us in Orlando”
Rodriguez said in a conference call Thursday that he sees the move as a positive for both sides.
“First, we wish Cameron well, he’s a talented young player,” Rodriguez said. “We hope that he has a successful and long career. Our view of signing homegrown players always begins with what do they want to do. We do not believe in pressuring guys, trying to get them to sign for us. … When we spoke this year, Cameron indicated that he would prefer to start his career outside of Chicago. So we were able to fulfill that wish for him, but in the process we thought we did very well for ourselves in acquiring a very talented young player with professional experience and then on top of that getting allocation money which can serve us.
“I think this is an instance where it’s a win-win for Orlando and for us, they get a talented player, we get resources and an equally young player with pro experience who also can compete for a starting spot.”
Ramos, who was born in Portugal, but now holds a U.S. green card, came to Orlando in 2015 and went on to make 39 league appearances for the Lions, tallying five assists. The addition gives the Fire depth at right back behind Matt Polster, who shifted to the position last season.
Lindley, who had helped the Fire U-18s to a national championship in 2015, seemed like a prime candidate for a Homegrown deal in 2018. The Fire have said they are looking to add a creative attacking midfielder this offseason, and in the 20-year-old Lindley they had the rights to someone who just posted seven goals and 13 assists, earned ACC Midfielder of the Year, First-Team All-ACC and All-American honors.
When asked why Lindley indicated he didn’t want to be in Chicago, Rodriguez said, “I never asked him. I’m only concerned with players who are in our locker room and want to play for us.”
As someone who talks frequently about building the club’s culture, Rodriguez said he isn’t worried about any implications of a top prospect wanting to sign elsewhere. Rodriguez also recognized that Lindley’s development with the Fire came mostly under the Academy’s previous regime.
“I don’t worry about it, I don’t,” Rodriguez said. “I tend to be binary in this. I worry about the guys and the families that choose us, that want to represent our city, that want to wear our colors and our badge. The second thing is Cameron developed, but without really [Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic] involved. I want to take this moment to give credit to that prior group, because I think they developed a very good player there, so Larry Sunderland, John Dorn and all the previous coaching staffs that had Cameron over the years, and the Indiana Fire and all the staff that worked with him at Indiana Fire.
“But I don’t worry about it. Grant Lillard chose us, there are world-renowned players that will choose us and others that won’t. I’m pretty straightforward, our environment is not for everybody. We don’t take personal offense to that and we hope that the players that we pass on also don’t take offense to that either.”